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Gangster Story (1959)
Not even a B movie
I recently saw this on TCM. I tuned in after it started so I had no idea what it was. I thought it was one of those corny educational films they used to show in classrooms in the 1950's that occasionally show up in TCM for the laugh value. That is, until I heard what sounded like Walter Matthau's voice and sure enough it was him so it must actually be a theatrical release. Matthau plays Jack Martin a hood rising up on to the FBI's most wanted list. Despite all the references to the FBI in this so-called film you only see the Anaheim police as the only guys doing any crime fighting here. Martin is hiding out in rural southern California and goes to work for local mob boss Earl Dawson (Bruce McFarlane) and his number two henchman Adolph (Garry Walberg) and somehow convince pretty bi-speckled librarian Carol Logan (Matthau's real-life wife Carol Grace) to become his girlfriend. This movie is so bad it doesn't even deserve to a B movie or even a C movie. This is like a high school class film project. It's Matthau's only turn as a director and as such he no idea what he's doing. I don't know how this project was ever green-lighted. After appearing as a guest star in 20 different TV series and nine films up until this time, including a couple of well known movies, I have no idea why he would diminish his talents and rising reputation as an actor to be in this 1959 flop.This is like watching a car wreck. I would give this 2.5 out of 10. That's generous just out of curiosity sake.
Simon och ekarna (2011)
Like An Oak, The Film Is Strong
I saw this at the 2012 Palm Springs International Film Festival where the film's director Lisa Ohlin was on hand at my screening for an audience Q&A following the film. Adapted for the screen by Marnie Blok from the popular novel by Marianne Fredriksson, it is the story of Simon Larsson,(played as a boy by Jonatan S. Wächter and as a young man by Bill Skarsgård) who is being raised by an aunt and uncle (Helen Sjöholm as Karin Larsson and Stefan Gödicke as Erik Larsson) who he thinks are his real parents. It takes place in Sweden and begins in 1939 at the outbreak of WWII in Europe. Young Simon goes off to a prestigious school where he befriends Isak Lentov (played as a boy by Karl Martin Eriksson and as a young man by Karl Linnertorp). Isak is Jewish and antisemitism has spilled over into Sweden so he is somewhat of an outcast at school except for his new friend Simon. Simon is from a rural working class background and Isak is the city bred son of a wealthy bookseller and their lives are woven together through WWII and beyond in this tender drama as Simon confronts family and society in a search for who he is. An excellent performance as the loving mother by the popular Swedish singer Sjöholm who is making her first screen role since 2004's "As It Is In Heaven" in which she gave another great performance in a supporting role. I don't know what took her so long to return to the screen but she should have been making more movies. Gödicke is very good too as the tough love father. Excellent production and art design by Anders Engelbrecht and Lena Selander. The film is also looks good thanks to cinematographer Dan Lausten and costumer Katja Watkins. Annette Focks scores some beautiful music and Jason Luke give the film great sound. A great supporting cast with many interesting characters. I would give this an 9.0 out of 10 and recommend it.
The Wrecking Crew! (2008)
You'll Have A Good Time
I saw this at a special screening last year in Palm Springs. Director Denny Tedesco was on hand for an audience Q&A following the film with Wrecking Crew drummer Hal Blaine. Also on hand at the screening were Wrecking Crew guitarist Bill Pitman and movie mogul Jerry Weintraub. This film was conceived by director Tedesco as a 30 minute documentary featuring four of the members of LA's legendary studio musicians known as "The Wrecking Crew." Dozens of key musicians made up the crew during the decade of the 1960's as they provided the music for almost all the legendary recordings coming out of the Los Angeles recording studios during that wonderful era of music history. Tedesco arranged a round table discussion of their remembrances of that time with his father, guitarist Tommy Tedesco and fellow recording sidemen and women Carol Kaye, Plas Johnson and Hal Blaine. One thing leads to another and Tedesco found so much material was being covered that he needed to expand further and include more interviews with other musicians. This led to more archival interviews to supplement that, more music to add to the soundtrack and archival footage on film and from stills. This turned into a delightfully entertaining and thoroughly informative documentary that is a must see for anyone weather they lived in that decade or not because the songs live on are the part of the soundtrack of America itself. Look for interviews by Herb Alpert, Dick Clark, Cher, Glen Campbell, Frank Zappa, Nancy Sinatra, Mickey Dolenz, Peter Tork, Jimmy Webb, Bones Howe, Snuff Garett, Larry Knechtel, Lew McCreary, Larry Levine, Don Randi, Bill Pitman, Joe Osborne, Julius Wechter, H.B. Barnum, Lou Adler, Al Casey, Brian Wilson, Earl Palmer and many more. A monumental soundtrack featuring over 100 1960's classics. Micki Stern had the difficult but enjoyable task of Music Supervisor for the film and Bob Branow was the sound re-recording mixer. Denny Tedesco directs with cinematography by Trish Govoni, Rodney Taylor and Vincent E. Toto. Claire Scanlon does a masterful job of editing all this material. Just a wonderful film and a must see. As a documentary I would give this a 10 out of 10 and highly recommend it. You'll have a good time.
Sound of My Voice (2011)
Would Make A Good Pilot For A TV Series
I saw this at the 2012 Palm Springs International Film Festival. An LA journalist and his girlfriend Peter (Christopher Denham) as Peter and Nicole Vicius as Lorna go underground to investigate a cult led by a woman who claims she's from the future. Brit Marling stars as Maggie, the mysterious cult leader with Richard Wharton as Klaus, her dedicated right hand man who brings the members and potential members of the the small group of followers to Maggie's home where she conducts meetings in her basement. Zal Batmanglij directs and co-wrote the script with Marling. Nice music from Rostam Batmanglij with a good-looking production value thanks to cinematographer Rachel Morrison and production designer Scott Enge. This was originally conceived as a 10 part webisode which is why the annoying and unexplainable numbers from one to ten keep popping up every few minutes. Fox Searchlight bought this and turned it into a theatrical release where it debuted as a big hit at the Sundance Film Festival last year. This comes across as more like a TV pilot for some Sci-Fi channel series than a movie. Even if a sequel to it were made as a film, it would spend the entire film just trying to explain and fill in the many unanswered story line subplots and backgrounds. Just too many loose ends here to a semi-interesting story that takes you nowhere. Would probably make a good TV series but this as a film fall flat. I would give this a 6.0 out of 10.
Få meg på, for faen (2011)
I recently saw this at the 2012 Palm Springs International Film Festival. This is a low budget, quirky, coming-of-age Norwegian comedy from a writer/director (Jannicke Systad Jabobsen), known for making shorts and documentaries, who is making her feature film debut using mostly untrained actors and the results are hilarious and charming. Alma (Helen Bergsholm) is a 15 year old living in a small rural Norwegian town called "Skaddeheimen" who has discovered self-gratification and phone sex. She, like her friends, long to leave the town they live in and go to a big city like Oslo as one of her friends older sister Maria (Julia Bach-Wiig) has. Alma has a crush on Artur (Matais Myren) but when he makes an offensive move toward her outdoors at a community dance, she flees inside to describe it to her best friends Saralou (Malin Bjørhoude) and Ingrid (Beate Støfring). They don't believe her story, and Artur of course denies it, so she becomes ostracized by the whole school and loses all her friends. Her mother (Henriette Steenstrup) is beside herself with Alma's fascination with sex but devises ways to put up with it. Director Jacobsen co-wrote the very funny script along with Olaug Nilssen adapted from Nilssen's novel. Excellent soundtrack music from Ginge Anvk, nicely edited by Zaklina Stojcevska with beautiful cinematography from Marianne Bakke this film comes together and delivers a smart and witty comedy. The casting is perfect and Bergsholm, who was 17 when this was filmed, playing the 15 year old lead is outstanding in her debut acting performance. She is both poised and comedic and pulls off her role with genuine charm and skill. I'll look for a future for her and for director Jacobsen. I would highly recommend this film and give it my highest rating of 10 out of 10.
Un amour de jeunesse (2011)
Never Ending Love
I recently saw this at the 2012 Palm Springs International Film Festival. The story begins in 1999 as 15 year old Camille (Lola Créton) begins a sexual relationship with her first love Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky) who is a couple of years older than her. Sebastian has made plans to visit South America for a 10 week adventure with friends. Camille waits for his return and hopelessly misses him and tracks his moves on a map with pins from every letter she receives. The weeks turn into months and the letters dry up and as it seems evident that Sebastian has moves on, Camille's infatuation/love has morphed into manic depression over her inability to hold onto the fairytale bliss of first love. Five years go by and she is an architectural student and has begun the first relationship since Sebastian and this time it is with her professor, Lorenz (Magne-Håvard Brekke) a much older man who is from Denmark. After more time has passed, Camille is now living with Lorenz in Paris and runs into Sebastian who is visiting the city from Marseille where he has been living all these years since returning from South America. The sight of Sebastian fuels old feelings that never went away and Camille realizes she is still in love with him. this is the third feature film from actress turned writer/director Mia Hansen-Løve. The film looks good thanks to cinematographer Stéphane Fontain and production designer Mathieu Menut and comes with a wonderful soundtrack put together by music supervisor Pascal Mayer but this film never hits it's mark. The pace is slow, there are no dimensional performances, the acting is stiff, the script is weak and the story is kind of implausible. It almost sets itself up for a sequel but it's better to leave this, and unlike, Camille move on.
Nuit #1 (2011)
I'm Screwed Up, You're Worse
I recently saw this at the 2012 Palm Springs International Film festival where writer/director Anne Émond was on hand at my screening for a Q&A following the film. Clara (Catherine de Léan) and Nikolai (Dimitri Storoge) go to Nikolai's apartment after meeting at a rave club for a one-nighter. Strangers to each other but each, no stranger to late night sexual romps with people they have just met. This film plays out like a three act stage play with the passionate sex as act one, his story as act two and her story as act three. They open up to each other in frank tell-all discussions about themselves and their thoughts and views on life and love. Mathieu Laverdière skillfully works the camera shots as cinematographer capturing the angst and disregard of the actors in tight and shots and confined spaces. Mathieu Bochard edits. The role of Clara as an elementary school teacher by day and cruising the city bars by night for multiple sex partners in one night stands is reminiscent of the 70's film Looking For Mr. Goodbar, although Émond has never seen that film. Clara ultimately gets audience sympathy as a lost girl trying to get back on the right path bu Nikolai has little hope in his future. Some great acting by these two veteran Canadian television actors with lots of dialog. I would give this film an 8.5 and recommend it. There is no violence but there is a lot of sex and sexual language that may offend some. An excellent debut feature film from a short film director.
Kai apkabinsiu tave (2010)
East meets West
I recently saw this at the 2012 Palm Springs International Film Festival where it's writer/director Kristijonas Vilziunas and lead actress Elzbieta Latenaite were on hand at my screening for a Q&A following the film. Latenaite plays Ruta, a Lithuanian-born young woman living in the United States who has traveled to Germany with her friend Aukse (Jurga Jutaite) to meet her father Vladas (Andrius Bialobzeskis) who has moved from Soviet Lithuania to East Berlin. The story is set in 1961 just prior to the Berlin Wall going up and Vladas is under the supervision of KGB agents who want Ruta to come to the east part of the city for her reunion with her father so they can force her to stay in the east and use her as a propaganda tool. These are dangerous times in this Cold War story of families separated by post WWII politics of Europe. Good story and direction from Vilziunas in his third feature film with lot's of use of archival footage of the era. Nice cinematography from Vladas Nudzius who is principally known as a documentary cinematographer. Costumer Agne Rimkute has come up with some great designs faithful to the era and production designer Galius Klicus skillfully recreates 1961 Berlin for the film that was shot on location in Lithuania. Saulius Urbanavicius gives the film excellent sound and composer Antoni Lazarkiewicz provides an excellent score. good acting from the cast but the film moves along a little too slowly and subplots aren't explored enough. This co-production of Lithuania, Germany and Poland was Lithuania's official submission to the 84th Academy Awards. I would give this a 7.0 out of 10.
Through The Past Darkly
I recently saw this at the 2012 Palm Springs International Film Festival. Noted actress Pernilla August makes her feature film directorial debut and for her first time out gets Sweden's official entry to the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film consideration. Leena (Noomi Pace) is the daughter of Finnish immigrants to Sweden whose abusive and alcoholic father is long dead and her mother with whom she has an estranged relationship is in the hospital and dying. A series of flashbacks tell the story. Ville Virtanen is Leena's hard drinking, hard living father Kimmo. Outi Mäenpää is Leena's long suffering mother Aili who, despite all she put up with in her marriage, carries a life long love and sympathy for her husband. With Tehilla Blad is Leena as a child and Pace's real life husband Ola Rapace as Lenna's husband Johan. Based on the Susanna Alakoski novel with screenplay by August with Lolita Ray. Cinematography by Erik Molberg Hansen. This is a great cast and features great directing, cinematography, a good script and story and sound. It's a dark subject with spousal and alcohol abuse but not presented too darkly but very believably. I would give this an 8.5 out of 10 and recommend it.
Sønner av Norge (2011)
Something's Rotten in Norway
I recently saw this at the 2012 Palm Springs International Film Festival where director Jens Lien was on hand at my screening for a Q&A following the film. The film is set in 1978 where Magnus (Sven Nordin) and Lone (Sonja Richter) are a new age couple raising two boys. Magnus is an architect by trade and is in a transition stage between being a hippy and a new age trend setter. His loving wife Lone puts up with his eccentricities and is the glue that keeps the family stable. A family tragedy propels the oldest son Nikolaij (Åsmund Høeg) into being a follower of the punk rock scene where he joins a band and rebels on the establishment of his hometown. Magnus goes through the family crisis on a different course following a nervous breakdown. This is a smart and funny comedy with a heavy sprinkling of drama to keep it on track. Norway has become known in recent years for the quirky comedy/drama films coming from there and this is a good example. Great directing by Lien from an excellent story by Nikolaij Frobenius. Fine acting performances from a great cast and nicely photographed by cinematographer Morte Søberg. Masterfully edited by Vidar Flatauken with a great score and sound this is a worthwhile coming of age film. Look for former Sex Pistols front man John Lydon as his alter ego Johnny Rotten in a cameo and a soundtrack featuring six original Sex Pistol classics. I would recommend this imaginative film and give it a 9.0 out of 10.
Le gamin au vélo (2011)
The Miracle Worker
I recently saw this at the 2012 Palm Springs International Film Festival. This was Belgium's official submission to the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film and won the Grand Prix as the Jury Prize winner at the Cannes film Festival. Cyril Catoul (Thomas Doret) is living in a state run home and school for children after his single parent father Guy Catoul (Jérémie Renier) abandoned him. Cyril's father promised him that he wouldn't sell his beloved bike and when the father never returns to take him from the state care he sets out in search of his father and his bike. A kind single woman, Samantha, (Cécile De France) takes pity on him and tracks down the bicycle that his father had sold and buys it and returns it to Cyril. Samantha soon takes Cyril in to live with her part-time. Cyril is a very troubled young boy and is longing to belong and have a family. He has a temper and is a candidate for a troubled life. From writers/directors/producers the Dardenne brothers, this is a good story with fine acting. I'm sure for the role of Cyril, the directors instructed first time actor Doret, to act like a brat and be who he isn't. It worked well. De France is great as the strong and sympathetic Samantha. The story moves along well with a good score and nice editing. It's a little implausible at times and kind of far-fetched but it's a crowd pleaser and I would give it an 8.0 and recommend it.
I recently saw this at the 2012 Palm Springs International Film Festival. Marina (Ariane Labed) is a sexually inexperienced 23 year old who lives with her dying architect father Spyros (Vangelis Mourilas) in a Greek mining town. She shares her existence with her best and only friend Bella (Evangelina Randou) and for some unexplained reason they enjoy holding arms and doing silly walks together. Bella also brushes Marina up on the art of kissing. Bella works in a diner while Marina also has a job but we never really learn what she does. Marina's father is dying and she takes him to and from doctors appointments and the clinic and they eventually live together in a motel room close to the hospital. Marina and her father like to watch David Attenbourough nature documentaries where she and her father mimic the animals featured in them. She mispronounces Attenbourough's name as Attenberg, thus the name of the film. Marina finds a boyfriend in an engineer (Giorgios Lanthimos whom she does not want to share with Bella. Athima Rachel Tsangari directs this original story written by her. Not much of a story here. Not much of a film here either. Good soundtrack to this film with music by Suicide, François Hardy, Daniel Johnston, J.J. Johnson's Beboppers and Marilena Orfanu. Lanthimos who plays Marina's boyfriend is best know as the director of the critically acclaimed film Dogtooth. Attenberg is Greece's official submission for consideration as Best Foreign Language Film to this years Academy Awards. Surely there were better films to come out of Greece so why they chose this one perplexes me. I would give this a 5.0 out of 10.
Blood is Thicker Than Water
I recently saw this at the 1012 Palm Springs International Film Festival. Directed by Andrei Zvyaginsev who co-wrote the screenplay with Oleg Negin this is the story of Elena (Nadezhda Markina) who is the wife of a wealthy Russina Businessman Vladimer (Audrey Smirnov) a sixty-something couple living in a beautiful apartment in an affluent part of town. They've only been married a couple of years and Elena is more of a live-in housekeeper to Vladimer than a equal partner spouse. Vladimer has an estranged daughter Katerina (Elena Lyadova) while Elena has a son Sasha (Igor Ogurtsov). Sasha lives a trailer trash kind of existence, always out of work and living in a small apartment with his wife (Eugenia Konushkina) and their ne'er-do-well son Sergei (Alex Rozin). Elena wants to help out her family and resorts to criminal acts to do so after Vladimer refuses to let them sponge off him. Great production design by Audrey Poncictrov and his art direction team with wonderful cinematography by Mikail Kirchman and good editing from Anna Mass the film also features a wonderful score by noted international film composer Phillip Glass. There is no middle class in this film as it centers around an upper class couple and a lower class family and touches upon the homeless. The film is slow however and elicits little sympathy for the characters. The central character, who you like at first, you end up not liking. The wealthy husband and his daughter, who you don't like at first, you kind of end up liking but the daughter lets you down and the son and his family, you never end up liking. You really end up disliking everyone in this film even though the father and daughter have a moment of reconciliation. Despite some good acting and a technically well made film this really never gets off the ground. I don't see how it received a Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. I would give it a generous 6.5 out of 10.
O Abismo Prateado (2011)
Put a Bandaid on it
I recently saw this at the 2012 Palm Springs International Film Festival. Violeta (Alessandra Negrini) is a 40 year old attractive dentist. Her husband Djalma (Otto Jr.) has been giving thought to his life and marriage while going for a swim and has come to the conclusion that he's going to leave his wife, kids and the city. Violeta finds out about this in a phone message just hours after making love to him and heading out for her work day. She decides to drop everything and catch a plane to go in search of her wayward husband but finds that the last plane has left and she'll have to wait until morning for the next flight. After experiencing a series of clumsy injuries, checking into a hotel and having a night out in a club she runs into Bel (Gasi Pereira), a homeless little girl who likes to collect Bandaids and her single parent father Nassir (Thiago Martins). While wandering the Rio streets, beaches and airport she mulls over the thought of whether her husband is worth it or not. This moves along slowly and meanders all over the place. Negrini is a good screen character but there's not enough for her to do. Fairly weak acting by the other principal characters dealing with a weak script by writer Beatriz Bracher. Nice production design by Marcos Pedroso and cinematography by Mauropin Heiro the film is directed by Karim Ainour. I would give this a 5.5 out of 10.
Hjem til jul (2010)
Hem till Jul
I saw this at the 2011 Palm springs International Film Festival. this is only the sixth feature film from writer/director Bent Hamer as a director but I am becoming a big fan of his. His only other film I saw was O'Horten which I really liked so I made it a point to see this one. Set in northern Norway at Christmastime, Jordon (Reidar Sorensen) is a former soccer star from a village up north who is going home for Christmas. Drugs, despair and alcoholism have taken a heavy toll on his once promising life and he's trying to get back to his parents house. On the way Johanne (Ingunn Beate Oyen) who runs a Christmas tree lot takes pity on him and offers him some food and shelter and discovers that he was once her friend many years ago. This is just one of the eight stories about the Christmas time of year in this film that are smartly woven together to form a seemingly singular story. It begins in the war-torn Balkans with a young boy named Goran (Arianit Berisha) hauling home a Christmas tree across an urban landscape and in the cross-hairs of a sniper. We also meet Dr. Knut (Fridtjou Saheim) who is working on Christmas Eve and tending to a friend of his Paul (Trond Fausa Aurvag) who is dependent on medication for his depression. Paul wants to go home for Christmas to see his kids but he's recently divorced and his wife Tone (Kristine Rue Slettebakkken) has taken up with another man Hroar (Kyrre Haugen Sydness). On his way home for Christmas after work, Dr. Knut is kidnapped by a desperate Serbian immigrant (Igor Necemer) who needs the doctor to deliver his Albanian wife's (Nina Zanjani) baby in their hideout in a remote cabin. We also meet Karin (Nina Anresen) who is having an affair with Kristen (Thomas Nordstorm) and discovers that he won't leave his wife Elsie (cecile Mosli) as he's been promising to do. Then there is Simon (Joachim Calmeyer) who has just found himself to be a widower. We also have schoolboy Thomas (Morten Ilseng Risnes) who has a crush on his neighbor and Muslim schoolmate Bintu (Sarah Bintu Sakor). Beautifully photographed by cinematographer John Christian Rosenlund and wonderful art direction and production design from Tim Pannen and Eva Noren this is a rich-looking film. Adapted for the screen by Hammer and Levi Henriksen from Henriksen's collection of short stories "Only Soft Presents Under the Tree" I would give this a 9.0 out of 10 and recommend it and will look forward to more Hamer films and hopefully catch up on his ones that I have missed including the much acclaimed "Kitchen Stories."
Powerful like a speeding locomotive
I saw this at the 2011 Palm Springs International Film Festival. This was nominated for a Golden Globe in the Best Foreign Language Film category and was also Russia's official submission to the 83rd Academy Awards. From director Aleksei Uchitel and writer Aleksandr Gonorovsky, The Edge, which in Russian is Kray, meaning the end, was beautifully shot by cinematographer Yuri Klimenko with wonderful set staging by production designer Vera Zelinskaya. Essential to this film is the rapid fire sound by sound designer Krill Vasilenko and buffeted by a a great music soundtrack from Irish composer David Holmes. The story is set in the fall of 1945 at the close of WWII in a Siberian labor camp whose occupants harvest wood and produce charcoal to power the steam locomotives that traverse the Siberian wilderness. Ignat (Vladimir Mashkov) is a Russian war hero suffering from intense migraines who has been sent to the labor camp as a locomotive specialist. He starts up a relationship with Sofia (Yulia Peresild) by stealing her away from her fellow camp boyfriend. Ignat learns of a locomotive stranded in the woods and abandoned for years across the river. He hatches a plan to resurrect it to it's former glory in an anticipated race with his arch rival Major Fishman (Sergei Garmash) who is soon to replace the camps commander. While surveying the locomotive, Ignat encounters Elsa (Anjorka Strechel) a hostile German girl who has been living a feral life aboard the old train since the outbreak of the war. He soon enlists her help to free the locomotive and repair a bridge across the river and in doing so, becomes involved with her in a forbidden Russian-German love affair. It's been reported that writer Gornorovsky and director Uchitl collaborated on an astounding 100 rewrites to bring the script to film with rewrites going on as it was being filmed. It pays off in the final product. Filled with imagery such as the bear, the symbol of Russia, not Soviet Russia but Russia. In a metaphor, Russia the bear is eaten and stripped of it's hyde,cannibalized and crucified. The Edge is the edge of the world and the edge of human relations and human abilities. This is a powerful film like the locomotives it embraces and I would recommend it and give it a 9.0 out of 10.
Kawasakiho ruze (2009)
I've got a secret
I saw this at last month's 2011 Palm Springs International Film Festival. This was the Czech Republic's official submission to the 83rd Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Pavel (Martin Huba) is set to receive an award to commemorate his contributions to freedom as a dissident during the Dubcek era. His son-in-law Ludek (Milan Mikulcik) is part of a documentary film crew making a film about Pavel's life. Ludek, meantime, is cheating on his wife Lucie (Lenika Vlaskova), Pavel's daughter, who has been battling a form of cancer. Ludek's affair is with Radka (Petra Hrebickova) who is part of the documentary film crew. In making the film, Ludek has stumbled upon some information that may implicate that Pavel was giving information to the secret police to silence a romantic adversary. Pavel's wife Jana (Daniella Kolarova had been lovers with the sculptor Borek (Antonin Kratochuil) who was forced to flee his country to live in exile in Sweden and has taken in a Japanese painter named Mr. Kawasaki (Isao Onoda). This story sounds like a soap opera and it kind of is but it's a little more intriguing and sophisticated than that. A great ensemble cast gives some wonderful performances. With Ladsislav Chudik as the menacing unrepentant ex-secret police investigator Kafka. Written by Petr Jarchovsky and directed by Jan Hrebejk I would recommend this and give it a 7.5 out of 10.
Des hommes et des dieux (2010)
A Conflict of Faith
I saw this last month at the 2011 Palm Springs International Film Festival where it won the FIPRESCI Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It has also won in that same category by the National Board of Review and was France's official submission to the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film although it didn't make the short list. Making its debut at the Cannes Film Festival it went on to win the Grand Prix Award there. This is set in 1996 and is based on the events of a true story that took place during the struggle for power by different Islamic guerrilla groups and the government in Algeria. Caught in the middle are a group of French Roman Catholic Trappist Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance operating the self-sufficient monastery of Tibhiirine in the Algeian highlands and helping the people its nearby village. The monks have been largely left alone by the area guerrilla fighters but when their leader is killed he is replaced by an even more brutal leader and the threat to their existence is imminent. They must decide to stay or go. From writer/director Xavier Beauvois this is a dark film that moves slow in it's two hours. Great cinematography from veteran photographer Caroline Champetier with a beautiful production design by Barthélémy in converting an abandoned monastery in Morroco that hadn't been used in 40 years for the setting. Lambert Wilson leads the ensemble cast as the Christian the leader of the monks with veteran actor Michael Lonsdale as the monastery and village doctor. This film is about 30 minutes to long and too artistically clichéd for my liking. Lots of audiences and critics love it but I would only give it a 7.0 out 10
Great performance from Isabelle Huppert
I saw this last month at the 2011 Palm Springs International Film Festival. Isabelle Huppert is a delight and should have been a household name in America but I guess the 57 French film star hasn't made many English language films. Huppert plays Babou, a Bohemian free-spirit non-traditionalist who drifts from job to job and has no serious relationship. Her daughter Esmerelda (played by Huppert's real-life daughter Lolita Chammah) is an uptight traditionalist who is embarrassed by her mother's eccentric dress and attitude and wants to exclude her from attending her upcoming wedding. Babou decides to reform her ways for acceptance in her daughters wedding and gets a job selling timeshares in the off season of a resort city on the Belgian coast. In the supporting cast are Aure Atika as Baou's boss Lydie, Jurgen Delnaet as Babou's temporary love interest Bart, Chantel Banlier as Babou's co-worker and roommate Irene and rounding out the cast are Joachim Lombard, Noemie Lvovsky, Guillaume Gouix, Magli Woch and Nelly Antignac. This is the third feature film for writer/director Marc Fitoussi and he has assembled a great cast of film vets for the roles but it's such a central character driven film that the supporting roles get kind of lost. It's a witty fast moving film with lots of comedy and a great performance by Huppert. Babou dreams of getting away to Copacabana beach in Rio and lately loves everything Brazilian so thus the film's title. I would have liked this film better had the other characters been a little more interesting but I would certainly recommend it and give it an 8.5 out of 10.
La prima cosa bella (2010)
I recently saw this at the Palm Springs International Film Festival. This film picked up three prestigious Donatello Awards (Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Screenplay) in Italy and is that country's official submission to the 83rd Academy Awards Best Foreign Film category. The story begins in the 1971 when Anna (Michella Ramazzotti), the beautiful wife of Mario (Sergio Albelli) wins a local Mrs. beauty pageant. The jealous Mario eventually throws out Anna and their two children and so begins their journey throughout this film that leads to the present day where the older Anna (Stefania Sandrelli) is dying and her daughter Valeria (Claudia Pandolfi) coaxes her brother Bruno (Valerio Mastanrea), now a professor who has a drug problem and has become estranged from his mother and sister, to pay his last respects while Anna is still alive. Told in a series of flashbacks to the past interwoven very smartly with the present this is a clever film and story with lots of wit and charm and a great cast. Also stars Fabriza Sacchi as Sandra, Anna's estranged sister. Anna stole Sandra's boyfriend Mario and when Mario and Anna split he returned to Sandra. There are lots of interesting subplots and a great supporting cast including the young actors who play Bruno and Valeria in childhood and as teenagers. Paolo Virzi directs this film and his real-life wife Ramazzotti in a family friendly manner where violence and sex are implied and not gratuitous. Nicely shot by veteran cameraman Nicola Pecorini in his feature film debut as a cinematographer. Film veterans Production Designer Tonino Zera, Set Decorator Donato Tieppo and Costume Designer Gabriella Pescucci have a clever collective eye for detail in recreating the flashback scenes of the 1970's and blend them seamlessly with the look of present day with the help of Film Editor Simone Manetti. Writer/Director Virzi wrote the original story for film with the intention of making it seem like it was adapted from a novel help of co-screenwriters Francesco Bruni and Francesco Picolo. Virzi and Ramazzotti were on hand at my screening for a Q&A. I would give this an 8.5 out of 10 and recommend it.
Tsi tkahéhtayen (2009)
I saw this last month at the 2010 Palm Springs Festival of Native Film & Culture. This is kind of simple and silly. In this fantasy/comedy three women, one lonely (Onkiyohstha), one childless (Teyotsihstokwáthe Dakota) and one poor (Tewentahawiht Dawn Antone) come to the mystical but hard of hearing Gardner (Owennatekha) as he's tending his garden to seek his help in attaining what they lack. Zoe Leigh Hopkins directs and co-wrote this short with Owennatekha. Filmed in Ottawa, Canada in Mohawk and Heiltsuk language with English subtitles. Owennatekha is fairly good in his role but the three women are amateurish. Hopkins' husband musician Marty Ballentyne provides a nice music score which is probably the best thing about the whole flick. Looks low budget but is slightly whimsical. I would give this a 5.5 out of 10.
Zathura: A Space Adventure (2005)
Fun family fantasy flick
I recently saw this on late night TV. This is destined to be a classic fantasy film that the whole family can watch and enjoy. Based on the book by noted children's author Chris Van Allburg who also wrote 'Polar Express' and 'Jumanji' this was adapted for the screen by David Koepp who wrote screenplays for 'Jurasic Park' I and II, 'Mission Impossible' and 'Spiderman' among his many hits. John Kamps joins Koepp on this screenplay. Danny (Jonah Bobo) and his older brother Walter (Josh Hutcherson) are two fighting siblings of about 7 and 10 years old. Their older teen aged sister Lisa (Kristen Stewart) is a lot older and typically annoyed and distant from them. Their father (Tim Robbins) has to leave for a couple of days and Walter takes out his frustration with Danny by locking him in a dumbwaiter and sending it to the basement. Under the stairs Danny finds an old board space adventure game from the 1950's called Zathura. He brings it upstairs to an indifferent Walter and they began to play it and suddenly they are trapped in the grips of the games world and it transports their house and them into outer space where they circle a giant Saturn-like planet trapped in it's asteroid belt. The games sends a threatening robot and terrorizing space creatures to them and ultimately an astronaut (Dox Shepard) to help them. Oscar award winning cinematographer for 'Pan's Labyrinth' Guillermo Navarro photographs. Jon Faureau, in his third feature as a director, directs. J. Michael Riva heads up the production design and the art direction team of David F. Klassen and Richard F. Mays with set decoration by Lauri Gaffin and a huge special and visual effects department. It's fantasy. The house still has heat and and their is still oxygen to breath in it despite being ripped from the ground and hurled deep into outer space but this is fun fantasy with lots of humor and I would recommend it and give it a 9.0 out of 10.
?E?ANX (The Cave) (2009)
I saw this short last month at the 2010 Palm Springs Festival of Native Film & Culture. From writer/director Helen Haig-Brown and based on a story told by her great uncle Henry Solomon. Set in 1961, a Chilcotin cowboy, Ahan (Edmund Lulua) is on horseback in the Chilcotin territory of British Columbia in western Canada and is hunting bear when he comes across a possible bear cave in the high country. He crawls in and exits through a portal that leads him to afterlife world of his ancestors. Luiz Almazon provides the simple but effective visual effects and edits the film. Randy Che's cinematography is beautiful. About 25 local members of the Tsilhqot'in Nation are cast as the inhabitants of the afterlife scene in the meadow. The film is shot in director Haig-Brown's native Tsilhqot'in language. The modern oral tradition story is like an urban legend but set in a rural wilderness. I would give this an 8.0 out of 10 and recommend it.
I recently saw this at the 2010 Palm springs Festival of Native Film & Culture where writer/director Blackhorse Lowe was on hand for an audience Q&A following its screening. This is a 15 minute short film with very little dialog and no music soundtrack. Shot on location in New Mexico Lowe recreates a piece of his own history as he dramatizes his grandmother as a teenager in the 1920's. Mary Jane (Brigadier Brown) lives with her grandmother (Carmelita B. Lowe) on a desolate windswept piece of New Mexico raising sheep and living in a sparse traditional Navajo round house called a Hogan. Mary Jane's older sister (Noelle Brown) is attending school in the white man's world but she hates it. Mary Jane on the other hand would love the chance to go but her grandmother wants her home. She is enthralled at all the wonders found in one of her sisters geography books about the people and places of the world and yearns to see the world away from what is all she knows. This is shot in black and white and white by cinematographer Smokey Nelson and production designer Lambert Blackhorse along with director Lowe and photographer Nelson give this a rich textured look on film and a feel of a return to the 1920's. Lowe even found a copy of the actual book in an old book store of the geography book his grandmother daydreamed over. Look for more form Lowe in the future. I would give this an 8.0 out of 10
Mr. Arkadin (1955)
Neptune on water skis
I recently saw this film on a PBS station and it was a bad, fuzzy and grainy print. I understand that there were at least five and possibly six different versions of this film released in Europe and America. I saw the one titled 'Confidential Report.' This film was adapted from the Orson Welles written script 'A Man of Mystery' that aired in April of 1952 as a 30 minute episode of the radio play series 'The Lives of Harry Lime.' Welles expanded his story for the film and his friend Muarice Bessy translated it into a novel. In the film Welles changed the Harry Lime character to Guy Van Stratten (Robert Arden) who, as a cigarette smuggler encounters a dying murder victim, a Naples blackmailer named Bracco (Grégoiré Aslan). With Van Stratten is his dancer girlfriend Milly (Patricia Medina) and as his dying breath Bracco whispers in Milly's ear two names; Arkadin and Sophie. Van Stratten befriends Arkadin's daughter Raina (Paola Mori) and he gets to meet the mysterious millionaire Gregory Arkadin (Orson Welles) who hires him to research his past. Arkadin claims to have no memory prior to 1927 when he found himself in Zürich with 200,000 Francs in his pocket. In the nearly 30 years since he used that money to build his financial empire now worth $100,000,000. He has become an eccentric tycoon hiding from his past who refuses to be photographed and wears a cartoonish disguise of a fake beard, hairpiece, nose and eyebrows giving him the appearance of the mythical King Neptune of the sea. He is like a combination of what Howard Hughes and Michael Jackson would become in power, reclusiveness, eccentricity and altered appearance. He is also fiercely protective of his daughter and harbors an almost incestuous feeling for her. Van Stratten sets out on a globe trotting journey to find Sophie (Katrina Paxinou) to put together pieces of Arkadin's past. He investigates various people with a shady past linked to Arkadin. A contraband dealer in Tangiers (Peter Van Eyck), a flea circus operator in Denmark (Mischa Auer), an antique dealer in Amsterdam (Michael Redgrave), a tailor in Zurich (Akim Tamroff) and in Mexico, a heroin addict (Frédrik O'Brady) and Sophie herself. It's a great international cast of actors which also includes Terence Longdon, Suzanne Flon and Jack Whatling with rich, memorable characters full of mystery, mayhem, murder and dark humor. It features great set decoration from two time Oscar winner for 'Patton' and 'Nicholas and Alexandra' Gil Parrando with Welles overseeing the art direction and costuming as well as being the films star, writer and director. Interesting cinematography in its lighting and camera angles from the lens of Oscar winner for 'The Longest Day' France's Jean Bourgoin. filmed in 1954, the overbooked Welles left production before the final edits to work on two other films. Producer Louis Dolivet, frustrated on the delay to get a finished project released, cut Welles loose and had it edited and released in different forms for different international markets contrary to what Welles would have edited and released as a finished product. The result is a strange film with flashes of Welles genius and remnants of 'Citizen Kane' and 'The Third Man' and a combination of 1940's American Film Noir and 1950's French cinema. In the film I saw some scenes are badly overdubbed and audibly out of sync among its many flaws. Arden is miscast in a lead role and Mori is weak in a supporting but pivotal role but the other characters are so interesting and plentiful and performed very well. The film gets a boost from its music score by Paul Misraki. I'd like to see the better version of this film that was culled from three of the existing versions and would recommend looking for that but whatever version it remains a must see film and would give the one I saw an 8.5 out of 10.